The Pulse

State teacher vacancies grew by nearly 50% last school year

By: - February 1, 2023 5:00 pm

On the first day of school in August, North Carolina’s public schools reported a 46% increase in teacher vacancies when compared to the previous year. A look-in on the 40th day showed a 58% jump in teacher vacancies.

The data in a new report released Wednesday during the State Board of Education’s monthly meeting show the state with 5,540 vacancies on the first day of school compared to 3,792 vacancies the previous year.

Read the full 2021-2022 State of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina report by clicking here.

On the 40th day of school, there were 5,091 vacancies compared to 3,213 during the 2021-22 school year.

North Carolina teachers marched for better pay.

Teacher vacancies have been a major concern for school leaders in recent years, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers leaving the profession have cited low pay and pandemic-related trauma. And some teachers share that the culture war around critical race theory, LGBTQ issues and book bans have left them feeling disrespected and underappreciated.

This week, Andrew Houlihan, the superintendent of Union County Schools, told attendees of the Public School Forum of North Carolina’s Eggs & Issues that teacher vacancies hit his district hard this year.

Houlihan said his district is high performing and has not traditionally had recruitment or retention problems.

“Until about two years ago, where we looked around the room and said, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ we cannot find a kindergarten teacher,” he said.

Under state law, a teaching position is considered vacant if it is not filled by a licensed teacher in a permanent assignment; filled by a long-term substitute or interim teacher or filled by a teacher with an emergency license, permit to teacher or provisional license.

Thomas Tomberlin, senior director of educator preparation, licensure and performance at the NC Department of Public Instruction, said the vacancy rate is overstated.

Tomberlin said 3,660 people who hold a permit to teach or provisional license are teaching but the positions are counted as vacant because they don’t meet the definition of a permanent teacher.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that this may be construed as there’s this massive increase in the number of vacancies across the state,” Tomberlin said. “What is changed is we’ve enforced the methodology that’s prescribed in law so that we’re accurately reporting to the General Assembly the state of our teaching profession.”

Schools had the most trouble filling K-5 vacancies in core subjects such as math, reading science and social studies. There were 1,224 vacancies in those subjects. Vacancies in exceptional children programs across grades K-12 were also difficult to fill.

Source: NC Department of Public Instruction

The report showed North Carolina’s teacher attrition rate holding steady at 7.78%. That’s 7,928 of nearly 93,832 teachers. The attrition rate represents a slight decrease over the previous year when it was 8.20%. That year, 7,736 of 94,342 teachers left the state’s public schools. Most teachers cite “personal reasons” for leaving.

“My report to you, the board, is that attrition in the state of North Carolina is one of the most stable metrics we have,” Tomberlin said. “It is annually right around the same number every year.”

Teacher mobility, which shows educators moving from one school to another in the state, increased slightly from 3.31% in the 2021-22 school year. The rate was  3.24% the year before.

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.